Colleen Powers is a writer and editor living in Minneapolis.

The Raunch I Needed

I've probably seen American Pie seven or eight times. It's the kind of movie I usually avoid — I dislike gross-out pranks, novelty penis souvenirs for bachelorette parties, and anything described as "raunchy."

But when I rented American Pie from the front desk at my freshman dorm in 2006, at a time when it was popular and frequently quoted but a movie I would never have been allowed to view at home, I liked it. I liked the characters; I thought it was funny; it was comfortably watchable. Though the dialogue isn't as funny as the banter in Superbad, which came out the summer after I first saw American Pie, it has the same quality of believably representing how straight teenage boys talk to one another, while still making the characters at least somewhat endearing. 

American Pie doesn't seem like a movie that would age well, over nearly two decades now of conversations and progress on consent and gender and sexuality. When I think back on it, though, there are few elements that stand out as truly repulsive. Most of the gross, misogynistic, homophobic lines come from Seann William Scott's character, who's only ever shown as an irredeemable villain. When the main characters use that kind of language and say rude, demeaning things about the girls they're with, those girls mock and/or dump them. 

And though they resist being reduced to sexual objects, the women of the movie aren't portrayed as prudish, one-dimensional naysayers. All of them want and enjoy sex, too: Tara Reid's character has an active sex life with her boyfriend, and much of their arc consists of him learning how to give her an orgasm. The whole joke of Alyson Hannigan's character is that while she's played as a nerdy innocent who couldn't possibly be sexually experienced, she's revealed to be more fearless and clear about what she wants than any of them. Natasha Lyonne gets to be casually wise about sex without ever being shown with a guy; Jennifer Coolidge as Stifler's mom is a caricature but the joke's not on her. And Mena Suvari's sex with Chris Klein is shown as the sweet culmination of their romance, where a different movie might have had her decide to wait.

Yes, American Pie is still filled with gags about bodily fluids, and there's no excusing the scene where the main character films and broadcasts a girl undressing without her knowledge. But when I watched the movie in 2006, I was coming off of years of both public school and Catholic education telling me sex was wrong and bad.

Two years earlier, I'd sat in health class while a mysteriously credentialed speaker known as "the Abstinence Lady" lectured us about how condoms don't work. That was the year of the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction, and our health teacher had told the class that Janet Jackson's exposed boob was proof of America's immorality. In youth group at church, we were reminded to refrain from any sexual activity whatsoever outside of marriage. ("What about hand jobs?" a kid visiting with his girlfriend facetiously asked, and was told, "I think you know the answer." That really happened.) Most of the teen movies I watched in high school either directly avoided premarital sex, like the overtly Christian A Walk to Remember, or were carefully PG-13.

So as I gradually left behind my vow to save myself until marriage, American Pie was undoubtedly part of my sexual education. And while that may sound like an indictment of the ways other sources failed me, I'm glad I found a movie in which the band camp girl is happily horny; a movie in which smart, talented girls see sex as part of healthy relationships; a movie where kids think about sex all the time but it's still not the most important thing in their lives. I'm glad I found the raunch I needed in American Pie.

Unchanging Me